by Matthew J.X. Malady
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and ThinkUp cofounder Anil Dash tells us more about how raising a kid affords one all sorts of opportunities for mischief.
There are waaay too many moments that tempt me to raise a horrible child. Anyway, my son now says “Sous vide me!” to indicate it’s bathtime.
— Anil Dash (@anildash) April 19, 2014
Anil! So what happened here?
The most immediate prompt for the tweet was that my wife was talking about dyeing Easter eggs with my son — a project that they’d never done before. We tend to do things in the normal, suburban household way people used to do them, but we also enjoy watching the super-competitive crazy Manhattan parent versions of these things. So what immediately occurred to me is that the most horrible version of dyeing-Easter-eggs-with-the-kids would involve preparing the eggs in a sous vide.
From there, it was a short leap to imagining how we’d explain that to a three-year-old. Similarly, I’ve corrupted common things that parents do with their kids, like asking “Is this a happy face or a sad face?” to teach them about reading emotions, but encouraging him to identify far more obtuse emotions.
Can you expand on that first sentence of your tweet and perhaps provide some more examples of when you’ve been especially tempted to do things that wouldn’t be found in any guidebooks on how best to raise a child.
My delight in the idea of corrupting one’s own children actually dates back to many years before I had a son, and even before I was sure I *wanted* to have children. My now-friend Greg Knauss, who was one of the pioneers of the blogging world (Suck.com, and all that good stuff), wrote a great book called Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard. The conceit of the book is clear in the title, and what Greg’s book introduced me to at a superficial level was the idea that parenting could be _fun_, which simply had never occurred to me before.
What I learned at a deeper level is that there’s an enormous amount of power in how we create worlds around others, whether it’s defining things to my son (“What’s a newspaper, daddy?” “It’s how people used to find out what was happening!”) or more fundamentally in our actions with one another, which assumptions and agreements on context we use as the premise for our engagement.
Probably the most fundamental thing I do that I can’t imagine is the subject of a lot of parenting books (I haven’t read any) is regularly introduce doubt or skepticism about my own authority and correctness. My son’s only 3, so I’m not actively lying to him about the nature of the physical world, but I do try pretty regularly to have him realize he can correct me in both playful and serious ways.
(Greg’s book was also incidentally the first book to ever have a book tour that used blogs, just another innovation for which he doesn’t get enough credit. You can still see vestiges of it like so.)
Lesson learned (if any)?
I don’t generally learn lessons, and I’m hoping to pass this on to my child. Fortunately, I have a son.
Just one more thing.
One of the big surprises to me when I saw the response to this tweet is how many people took it seriously, or assumed it was literally true. I realize there are dangers in constructing an absurd character that is so close to one’s own identity that it’s indistinguishable for many people; Lena Dunham and Snoop Dogg and Ann Coulter and Vladimir Putin all are far more adept at this than I am.
But in my case, I often say things that I think are so patently, obviously horrible that nobody could possibly see them as anything other than parody. It’s that woeful, self-defeating naivety that I most hope to pass on to my son.
Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.